Jean… When Catherine’s text message told me, “ Jean is dead“, I was walking out of the Lithuanian Ministry of Defence. Thirty years after communism, Vilnius is a postcard, everything is beautiful, sublimely well restored, and it floats on this doll’s house city like a perfume of Denmark and Holland, of well-being, openness and European youth, free morals and cycling.

From Soviet times, only this KGB headquarters remains, which had been that of the Gestapo and which has been turned into a museum of horror, a must-see for tourists.

Jean is dead.

Jean is dead. The last time we saw each other, a few weeks ago, he yelled at me. I had to come more often, to tell him everything, especially about Europe, in all its states. In the sunshine of global warming, I felt cold. I should not dawdle. An MEP on mission does not keep a Foreign affairs minister waiting, to whom I would not have been able to explain that in a split second I had just buried both my journalistic career, my political family and, paradoxically, my generation, of which L’Observateur , Jean Daniel’s newspaper, my newspaper, the Nouvel-Obs, had been the crucible.

Jean is dead and the Huf is now asking me for a paper. What am I going to tell them? The arrival of Jean at Casa, at my grandparents’ house, in 1943, with the 2nd battalion and his fellow soldier, Charles Guetta (1)? The way my grandmother had fed them, or rather force-fed them? No, maybe a little too personal, but fifty years of an ever closer relationship, intimate, so often conflictual when I ran his newspaper, but always so confident and close, but still at the formal “vous”? Too difficult.

Too long, but I also don’t want two quotes that the press reviews might retain. I don’t know how to make this piece, and then when people start asking you for obituaries, it is never a good sign. I don’t know how to bury Jean because I couldn’t help burying myself with him, but in the evening, on the computer, I find this, an excerpt from a book written in 2016 when I thought I would soon die of too many sudden illnesses (2).

I read. I read on page 77: “…and then there’s Jean“.

Burberry on the shoulder, the resurrection of Humphrey Bogart and his friend Camus, Jean Daniel was the political and cultural head of the newspaper. Fashion, design, women’s liberation and the liberation of “homos”, as he used to say, well… Very good. He was obviously in favour and, above all, delighted that this was happening in his columns but, for him, the essential was elsewhere. Jean had his own fights, the emergence of a new socialist left, the second Mendesist left from which Michel Rocard had taken up the torch; the settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; the end of the dictatorships of the Soviet bloc and the democratization of the Western communist parties; the affirmation of the CFDT and a frenetic search for bridges between the Left, Gaullism and Christianity.

Much of this could be found in the May 68 decantations and, surrounded by ‘’Mendésistes’’, left-wing Catholics and leftists in in chemical precipitation, by a tutti frutti editorial board that he had perfumed with a zest of Gaullism, he led these battles with impassioned editorials and “general conferences”, his own, “ the high mass ” as we said, which he held every week.

Behind his long oval white marble Knoll desk, he sat between Hector and Serge (3). We were crammed on the equally white carpet and he began a dialogue in front of us with his guest of the day. It could be Michel Foucault or an Italian Eurocommunist. Robert Badinter enlightened us on François Mitterrand’s march to the Elysée Palace. François Furet drew political lessons from his re-reading of the French Revolution. Veterans of the Algerian independence told us about their disillusionment with decolonization. Simon Nora, Mendès’ former right-hand, reminded us of the need for truth and economic rigour. Between a Gaullist ambassador and intellectuals from the Israeli peace camp, the most regular guests were Edmond Maire, the head of the CFDT, and Michel Rocard, of course, the newspaper’s darling child.

It was flying high, very high. It was exciting, enriching and full of information, which we were going to make a big deal for the next issue, but what Jean was doing there was above all “pedagogy”, that was his word – maieutics, in fact, because his questions to the guest had only one goal: to shake up our preconceived ideas, to make us evolve, to make us see and share what he had already seen, to unite the team in a common vision or common questions that were to become ours, those of the newspaper, since they were his.

The Church says that the “reception” of a council takes several centuries. That of the ideas that Jean wanted to share with us was not always immediate. It often took months or years, but he had his close guard, Guy, Josette Alia and a few others, of which I have been a member, during the two or three years before my departure for Le Monde. He would then entrust us with the subjects on which he was in connivance with us and, when he despaired, even with us, of finding relays in the editorial staff, he referred to his inner circle, that of “friends of the newspaper”. Then entered the scene Edgar Morin, Jacques and Mona Ozouf, Pierre Nora, the historian, Simon’s younger brother, or figures of the Roman intelligentsia, because the Italian left was far ahead of the French one.

Jean was resourceful, but the day he exclaimed to a political journalist, “When will you tell me that a trade unionist is wrong and a boss is right”, he shocked many people. Today, he would say the opposite: “When will you tell me that a boss is wrong and a trade unionist is right?” The wheel has turned. Times have changed again. The perceived opinions are no longer the same, but they have always been so well established that in the mid-1970s, when Jean returned from an interview with Juan Carlos and told l us his conviction that Franco’s dauphin would accompany the democratisation of Spain, the temperature dropped sharply at the conference.

Had he lost his mind?

The carpet was grumbling . Hector raised his eyebrows and even Serge, even the faithful Lafaurie, marked his disapproval: “Jean, I don’t understand you”, he threw into the heavy silence. Without anymore allies, Jean Daniel stood up, leaving us all of us standing there. He left his office, did not even attend the leaders’ lunch that concluded the conference but, as he had predicted, Juan Carlos did indeed give decisive support to the Spanish democrats and socialists.

I do not believe that Jean has ever been wrong about the essential, and his few faults have the charm of fragility. Neither his irrepressible need to be reassured by compliments with which he is never satisfied, nor his disappointment at not having entered the pantheon of world literature, nor his eternal regret at not having been Perdriel, who would have liked so much to have been Daniel, take anything away from this man whose newspaper has enlightened its readers so much, shaped so much an era and, incidentally, did so much for me.

In my room, in Vilnius, I stopped there.

Jean, to whom I had sent the typescript of this book, had called me, furious: “Where did you get this? I never wanted to be Perdriel! ». He would never have admitted it, but it was the truth. He would have wanted to be Claude Perdriel, co-founder of the newspaper, a wealthy engineer and press boss. Friday, military funeral and tribute to people who matter in Paris, I won’t be going to the Invalides. I can’t go there. I’m not going to cry a river. I am past the age of not being able to control myself, and I am expected in Tallinn, again for this report on the relations between the European Union and the Russian Federation. I will write this parliamentary report alone, without having been able to discuss it with him.

Jean is dead.

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